WASHINGTON (April 13, 2022) – In a new report, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Stacey McKenna and Research Fellow Chelsea Boyd identify and analyze common arguments voiced by opponents of cannabis legalization. They find that, while cannabis is not a risk-free cure-all, it does not pose a great risk to the health and welfare of the American public.

McKenna and Boyd’s report lays out how relevant concerns can be largely mitigated through effective policy and that many arguments advanced by anti-legalization campaigns rely on nebulous evidence and oversimplification. They also recommend smart policy to stem potential negative impacts of cannabis use.

“The consumption of high-potency cannabis is not without its risks, especially with regard to driving impairment and accidental intake by young people, but criminalization often comes with severe consequences of its own,” said McKenna. Boyd added, “As more states look into legalization and the federal government considers decriminalization and de-scheduling, we recommend a harm reduction approach to regulatory priorities.”

As cannabis legalization continues to gain momentum, concerns from opponents in a few main areas remain consistent. McKenna and Boyd analyze the validity of five major concerns frequently used in anti-cannabis messaging and find that while some contain kernels of truth, these campaigns frequently present an insufficient and deceptive picture of the state of cannabis use. McKenna and Boyd instead present a data-driven approach to cannabis legalization that carefully considers potential and realized impacts.

Given the continuing trend toward legalization in the United States, the report recommends several ways that federal, state and local governments can protect both consumer safety and autonomy. These include:

The report further details how smart, strategic policy informed by the most up-to-date scientific literature can support safe legal markets for medical and recreational cannabis.

Three key points:

  1. Concerns raised by campaigns and groups opposing cannabis legalization often contain some truth but present an incomplete, misleading picture about the effects of cannabis. This occurs because the messages assume causation when evidence only suggests association or because the degree of complexity in understanding an issue is not explored.

  2. Cannabis consumption is not without risks, but most people engage in a variety of behaviors that pose a risk to their health on a regular basis, from driving a car to drinking alcohol.

  3. Risks associated with cannabis use can be effectively diminished through targeted policy and a well-regulated marketplace.

Read the full study here.

Featured Publications